Dear Dr. Gott: A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. I have done some initial research online, and www.mayoclinic.com describes it as a “rare but aggressive type of breast cancer that develops rapidly.” They also point out that the typical signs of breast cancer – a lump or suspicious area – are often absent, and it usually goes undiagnosed until it reaches Stage IV. Some very young women have lost their lives to this disease.
Could you please explain more about this disorder?
Dear Reader: I will certainly try, but because I am neither a gynecologist nor an oncologist, I must defer to more knowledgeable resources for information.
According to the National Cancer Institute, inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is very aggressive yet rare. It accounts for 1 percent to 5 percent of all cases of breast cancer in the United States. It is called inflammatory because it often causes the breast to look swollen and red. IBC is more commonly diagnosed in younger women than are more common forms of breast cancer.
Symptoms may include swelling, warmth in the breast, heaviness, aching, inverted nipples, burning and an increase in breast size. The skin of the affected breast may also appear to be red, pink, reddish-purple or bruised. Other skin changes such as ridging or pitting may be seen. In most cases, there is no distinct lump present.
The symptoms are very similar to those of an infection within the breast, but the main distinction is that symptoms will not resolve with antibiotic treatment. Therefore, it is vital to report any breast changes to your physician immediately. If you are currently being treated for a breast infection but it fails to respond in a timely manner to appropriate therapy, it is time to re-evaluate the diagnosis.
Treatment for inflammatory breast cancer is similar to that of other types of breast cancer. Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are the main choices. IBC treatment often begins with chemotherapy and radiation rather than surgery; however, because IBC is so aggressive, many sufferers will be diagnosed with metastasized cancer and will require more aggressive treatments.
Because of its rapid growth and potential to spread, the survival rate is lower than with other forms of breast cancer, but as more awareness is directed toward this type of cancer, the diagnosis can be made earlier; with treatment begun earlier, chances of recovery increase.
I urge any woman or man who experiences breast changes to be seen immediately by his or her physician for examination and testing. The physician should be able to determine the cause and, if appropriate, treatment (for benign, noncancerous causes) or referral to a specialist if cancer is suspected.
To provide related information, I am sending you a copy of my Health Report “Breast Cancer and Disorders.” Other readers who would like a copy should send a self-addressed stamped No. 10 envelope and a check or money order for $2 to Newsletter, P.O. Box 167, Wickliffe, OH 44092. Be sure to mention the title.
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